Crisis in Liberia: A Call to Action

(A Memorandum Sent to the UN Security Council by the International Crisis Group)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 12, 2003

The 4 June 2003 announcement of the indictment of Liberian President Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone propels the Liberian conflict into a new situation, with both opportunities and risks for the international community. Handled correctly, it can provide an opportunity to purge the region of one of the most serious threats to regional stability and usher in a new era of peace, stability, and democracy for the people of Liberia and the region. Mishandled, the indictment can spark a new spiral of violence of catastrophic proportions not only for the Liberian people but also for the citizens of Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast.

Liberia itself is at risk of complete disintegration and already its people are in grave danger from both conflict and the breakdown in minimal human security. Monrovia is under threat with the LURD rebels within an estimated five kilometers of the city center. Heavy artillery fighting has occurred across the city. Internal fighting within Taylor’s forces may threaten the city further. More than 100,000 displaced people have fled Monrovia or moved farther south. More than 20,000 refugees from other conflicts in the region who were already in Liberia have taken refuge in the stadium. Humanitarian, NGO, UN, and non-essential diplomatic staff are being evacuated.

An ECOWAS meditation team arrived in Monrovia on 10 June 2003. Peace talks in Ghana are due to resume on 11 June. The LURD has issued an ultimatum giving Taylor until midnight 11 June to step down from power. Representatives from the LURD, MODEL, Liberian political parties, and the government await the continuation of the peace talks. The arrival of MODEL in Ghana on 9 June signifies its willingness to continue with a peace process. To date, Taylor has yet to respond to the LURD ultimatum.

The international community has an opportunity – and a responsibility – to support the indictment and help the Liberian people at this critical time, and in doing so help bring peace and stability to the whole region, where Liberia has been the eye of the regional storm. In particular, the United States must lead the effort and fulfill its responsibilities to ensure a successful transition from the Taylor era. Just as the U.K. led in Sierra Leone and France led in the Ivory Coast, the U.S. must now assist the nation it helped establish, including through the deployment of troops if necessary. The following steps should occur:

1. Establishment of US-led MNF: The U.S. should take the lead in establishing a robust multinational force (MNF), endorsed by the UN Security Council, to ensure a peaceful transition from President Taylor’s rule to that of a new, democratically elected government. The initial role of the MNF should be to enforce a ceasefire, which – assuming one can be negotiated - can be expected to be extremely fragile; if the present situation continues to deteriorate, the MNF may need to be deployed even without a ceasefire in place. As the situation stabilizes, the MNF should transition to a traditional UN peacekeeping force.

2. Support for Sierra Leone Special Court Indictment of President Taylor: The Security Council should call on Charles Taylor to step down from office immediately and appear before the Special Court. A strong message that he has finally lost international support will be key to securing his peaceful departure from office and power.

To further ensure his appearance before the Special Court, the Security Council should enhance the current authority of the Court by passing a new resolution under Chapter VII demanding that all states comply with the terms of its indictments – and deliver Charles Taylor should he not voluntarily present himself.

At the same time it should be made clear informally to Taylor that, while he cannot expect amnesty, should he depart power peacefully and contribute constructively to the peace process he could reasonably expect in the court process to gain appropriate credit for those actions.

3. Ceasefire: The ECOWAS team in Monrovia and the International Contact Group for Liberia (ICGL) negotiating group in Ghana must strive to arrive at an immediate ceasefire between the LURD, government forces, and MODEL forces, such ceasefire to be monitored, supervised, verified and as necessary enforced by the MNF.

4. Peace Process: The negotiations in Ghana, involving the International Contact Group on Liberia (U.K., U.S., France, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, EU, UN, AU, and ECOWAS), should work to reach a settlement which would secure the immediate departure from power of Taylor and the establishment of an interim government leading to new democratic elections within an estimated 18-30 month period. Conditions for a comprehensive DR (Disarmament and Reintegration) program, the creation of a new national army, strengthening of civil society, and a strong international presence must also be negotiated.

5. Interim Government: A two-phased post-Taylor government should be established. First, Taylor must leave power and, in accordance with the Liberian constitution, hand power over to his Vice President, Moses Blah. Blah would finish Taylor’s term until January 2004. Secondly, in the meantime, an interim government should be negotiated under the auspices of ECOWAS and the ICGL, with strong U.S. and UN leadership. All political parties and civil society would participate. It would take power in January 2004 at the end of Taylor’s current term.

6. Transitional Justice: A joint Liberian and international community task force should begin preparatory work on both a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a new war crimes tribunal for Liberia. The latter would be established to send a clear signal to all factions that they face prosecution for war crimes. The International Criminal Court would apply where its jurisdiction extended. It would be emphasized that those who enter promptly into a ceasefire and engage constructively with the peace process could expect to gain relevant credit for their actions in any criminal process, although immunity should not be available in advance to any Liberian, whatever his or her affiliation or status.

7. UN Mission: The Security Council, in consultation with ICGL and ECOWAS, should establish a UN Mission for Liberia (UNML) to assist the interim government in the transition to democracy. The focus of the Mission, which should be seen as an essential complement to the MNF, would be to assist the interim government in comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program, institutional reform, and free and fair elections. The Mission mandate would be as follows:

The UN and committed member states have shown, through the long journey from war to peace in Sierra Leone, that resolve and leadership can halt the disintegration of legitimated authority, the recourse to violence, and the assault on human security. The situation in Liberia demands the same resolve and leadership today. Without it, not only will Liberia continue as a cockpit for contending armed groups and discontented political forces, denying the Liberian people their rights and threatening those of others, the whole costly commitment to Sierra Leone will be vitiated, and the moral force of the international community eroded.

Now is the time for the international community, led by the U.S., to provide an effective response to a worsening and tragic situation in Liberia. It must act and encourage others to act under its authorization. In particular, the United States should be encouraged to step up as the UK and France have done elsewhere in the region and, through its determined assertion and example, coalesce the resolve of the international community and apply this to saving Liberia.